Partnership … that’s the word that comes to mind when I think about hosting the USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds. Without key partnerships and relationships, hosting the AEC at the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP) would not be feasible.
By my best recollection, Rob Burk (CEO of USEA) and I first began talking about bringing the AEC to Kentucky in 2015. While those early conversations did not result in the AEC being awarded to Kentucky, it was clear that there was mutual interest from all parties to make it a reality in the future. (More on USEA to follow.)
Fast forward to 2017 and the USEA was once again accepting bids for hosting their National Championship. The preferred dates of the AEC always fall late August/early September. This is the same general time that the Park Equine Kentucky Classique Horse Trials (organized by Mary Fike) have been held at the KHP. This event is a tremendous event that has been held at the KHP for countless year and is one that all riders in Area VIII look forward to.
Vanessa Coleman (EEI Director of Competition) and I connected with Mary to have a casual conversation about the AEC, and her thoughts about the KHP as a host venue. It is worth noting that Mary has long been a supporter of EEI in ways too numerous to count. She has supported the Kentucky Three-Day Event in April and we have always tried to reciprocate and support her events. Key to our conversation with Mary was that without her support, we would not pursue the AEC. We said then that we had no desire in taking away from Kentucky Classique as it is integral to the eventing community. We still feel this way. However, by potentially bringing the AEC to KHP, hopefully there would be benefits available to Kentucky Classique for many years to follow.
To our extreme delight, Mary said yes! Like us, she believed that we had a unique opportunity and could provide an unparalleled experience for the eventing community if the AEC were held at the KHP. With Mary’s partnership, we collectively submitted a hosting proposal to USEA.
In December of 2017 we were notified by USEA that the EEI/Mary Fike partnership were selected as the host organizers for the 2019-2021 AEC. We were ecstatic. And while we knew there would be countless hours, meetings, calls, etc. involved in preparing for the event, I’m not sure any of us could have predicted the level at which our partnership would grow, both with Mary and the USEA.
There is not a week that goes by that Mary and Vanessa aren’t talking about the details of the event. Entries, schedules, officials, stabling, etc. You name it and they’ve talked about it numerous times. Often, I will find Vanessa and Mary meeting, talking about the “Brain” of the event. I’ve learned not to mess with the Brain as it is literally their living, breathing, planning document that makes sure we address all the details. Without Mary and Vanessa working so close together, the AEC would not happen.
What I also didn’t realize in 2015 when Rob and I first talked was how close our partnership would be with USEA. Rob, Kate Lokey, Claire Kelley, and several others at USEA work with us on almost a daily basis to make sure we meet the needs of the USEA members who travel to Kentucky to compete. Throughout this process they have been open to new ideas and thoughts. With each idea or discussion, their first and most important criteria has been, “what is best for the USEA competitor/member?” They have never waivered from this starting position and that has reinforced for EEI and Mary the importance of producing an event worthy of a National Championship. As with any partnership, there is always some give and take. USEA has always been willing to talk through those scenarios.
As we approach the 2021 AEC, I’m grateful for the partnerships EEI has with Mary Fike and USEA. It is only because of our mutual respect, trust in one another, and collective effort that we can produce an event like the AEC. The net result we believe will be the opportunity for AEC competitors to walk away with a lifetime of memories.
We hope to see you here (August 31 – September 5).